Biographical Essay


Timeline Reminders

Annotated Assignment Guidelines

By Friday, October 4, students will submit a short biographical essay (4 to 6 pages, typed, double-spaced) about a key figure from the Dickinson & Slavery exhibition.  Students must get approval for their subject choice by email in advance from Prof. Pinsker.

  • You can find a list of potential figures from the Dickinson & Slavery exhibition at the Site Index and read the stories in the relevant sections of the online site:  College Founding, Sectional Crisis, or Freedom’s Legacy
  • You may choose a subject outside of this list, even someone who did not attend the college or work at Dickinson, but they should have a connection to the school and must be approved by Prof. Pinsker
  • Everyone should email Prof. Pinsker requesting approval for their biographical subject no later than Friday, September 20th

Each essay should contain an academic argument or thesis statement about the subject’s significance within the story of American slavery.  Essays should cite effectively to a combination of primary and secondary sources.  In particular, students should attempt to use the main course text (Slavery and the University) to help explain the significance of their subjects within the study of slavery.

  • See methods handout on How to Write a Thesis Statement
  • See methods handout on How to Frame a Research Question
  • See methods handout on How to Use Quotations
  • There are two useful online research guides that you should consult as your look for primary and secondary sources:  the Studying Slavery page from Dickinson & Slavery and the History Research Guide from the college library.
  • Also make sure to review these video tutorials, from the library:  Finding Journal Articles, Evaluating Sources & Choosing A Database
  • When it comes to SLAVERY AND THE UNIVERSITY (edited by Harris, Campbell & Brophy) make sure to identify one or more essays in the collection that offer relevant insights about how to interpret your subject and his or her role in the story of American slavery.  Be creative about how you define relevance. Very few of the essays will actually mention your subject, but many of them will describe parallel situations in other schools or will offer valuable background and context on the time period that you are addressing.  Then use snippets of quotation or effective paraphrasing of the information to make your interpretation about the significance of your subject and his or her experience more persuasive.  Finally, remember that not only is there an index in the hard copy, but also there is a full-text searchable version of the volume available through the library’s online catalog.
  • Don’t forget to guard against plagiarism.  Remember our discussion from the very first day of the semester.  Never write your own words while looking directly at your sources, especially secondary sources –unless you are quoting them.

Profiles should be formatted in a Word or PDF document with title page and Chicago-style footnotes.  Instead of a bibliography, students should include an analytical “Sources” section that briefly describes the array of sources available on their subject.

  • Your title page should include a descriptive title (like “Benjamin Rush:  Abolitionist Slaveholder”), byline (your name) and date of submission
  • See methods handout on How to Use Footnotes
  • Consult as needed with the library’s Chicago-style guide, but make sure to use sample footnote models for formatting and NOT bibliography examples.
  • The brief Sources section should be written in complete sentences. Devote about one paragraph to secondary sources and one paragraph to primary sources.  You should refer to various sources using an abbreviated style with author name, shortened title and publication year (in parentheses).  When your refer to primary sources, make sure to indicate where you found them, such as by database (Historical Newspapers) or online (URL) or archives (College Archives).

Biographical essays will be graded on research, analysis and prose. Prior to submission, students must share a draft of their essays via email to an assigned group of peer reviewers. Late profiles will be penalized up to 5 points per day.

  • Everyone will be assigned to a group of peer reviewers by Prof. Pinsker.  You will be asked to share a draft of your essay with your group BY EMAIL during the week of September 30 through October 4.  Your job as a reviewer is NOT to correct mistakes, but rather to offer suggestions as an interested reader.  Specifically, respond in email with any questions you have about the meaning of the material or suggestions about what seems missing.  Everyone should copy Prof. Pinsker in their email exchanges.
  • See methods handout on How to Proofreed